Site: High Point, N.C. (Millis Center)
Score: #1 High Point 75, #4 Gardner-Webb 58
Records: HPU 21-6 (17-3 Big South), GWU 11-13 (10-7 Big South)
Next HPU Event: Sunday, March 14, 2021 — vs. #2 Campbell, Big South Tournament Championship (Millis Center, High Point, N.C.), 2 p.m.
HIGH POINT, N.C. – For the sixth time in program history and first since 2015, the top-seeded High Point University women’s basketball team advanced to the Hercules Tires Big South Women’s Basketball Tournament Championship with a 75-58 victory over No. 4 seed Gardner-Webb University on Thursday evening (March 11) in the semifinals of the tournament.
The Panthers will be looking for their first conference tournament title on Sunday (March 14) against Campbell in the championship game, having come away empty-handed in each of the first five chances. Thursday’s win in the semifinals evened HPU’s record in the Big South Tournament at 20-20. High Point is 0-5 in the championship match, with four losses to Liberty and one to Winthrop. The Panthers are 1-1 against Campbell in the postseason, last meeting in 2014 where the Purple and White won in the semifinals.
High Point now has 21 wins on the season, the third-most in a single season in its Division I history and one behind the record, initially set in the 2013-14 season and equaled in the 2018-19 campaign. The Panthers became just the 15th team in the country to win 21 games this season, joining blue-blood programs like Stanford, UConn, Louisville, and South Carolina, among others.
“I can’t give enough credit to our girls today,” head coach Chelsea Banbury said after the win. “They came out and executed the game plan and knew what they needed to do. We did a good job of taking care of the ball, especially in the first half. Last time we played Gardner-Webb we had 18 turnovers in the first half and this time we had seven. We took it seriously. It was definitely a team effort and the credit goes to the girls.”
Four different Panthers scored in double digits for the fourth game in a row, led by freshman Claire Wyatt with 17. Redshirt freshman Cydney Johnson was right behind Wyatt with 16 points to match her career-high and grabbed a career-best eight rebounds, including six on the offensive glass.
“Cyd [Johnson] was excellent today,” Banbury said of the All-Freshman selection. “She defended well, she was a spark on offense getting a bunch of offensive rebounds – especially on free throws.”
Skyler Curran was one point behind Johnson with 15 to go along with seven rebounds while Jenson Edwards narrowly missed a double-double with 14 points and nine boards. Edwards was also the lead distributor in the game, dishing out six assists.
High Point had a very consistent day shooting the rock, connecting at a 50% clip from the floor in three of the four quarters, and shot above 40% in all four to finish at 51% for the game. It’s the seventh time this season the Purple and White have made the majority of the shots they’ve taken, the most since doing it as many times during the 2016-17 campaign. Additionally, it was the 18th time this season HPU has shot above 40% in a game, a situation High Point is 18-0 in.
On the other end of the court, the Panthers held Gardner-Webb to shooting 36.8% from the floor, the 20th time High Point’s opponent has shot below 40%. The Purple and White are now 17-3 on the season when forcing their opponents to shoot that low.
Both teams went 6-14 from the floor in the first quarter, with High Point holding a four-point lead thanks to two more triples and two more free throws than the Runnin’ Bulldogs. The Panthers had a fast start to the game, jumping out to an 8-0 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes after Edwards hit a pair of free throws on HPU’s first possession, followed by threes from Wyatt and Curran.
Gardner-Webb scored the next five before the Panthers connected from deep on three straight possessions, getting two long balls from Edwards and one from Johnson to lead 17-5. The Runnin Bulldogs controlled play the remainder of the frame, outscoring HPU 9-4 in the final three minutes to make it 21-17 after one.
The visitors hit a three to begin the second quarter, making it a one-point game. Curran answered with a three of her own on the ensuing possession and the game stayed a one-possession contest for the first three minutes of the second. High Point only led by one, 27-26, just under three minutes into the quarter before the Panthers scored 13 straight to lead 40-26.
Curran sparked the run with her third and final triple of the game and was followed by a pair of layups from Johnson and Jordan Edwards. Jenson Edwards went 2-2 from the line and Johnson and Chyna McMichel each got two points in the paint to finish out the run. HPU held onto the double-digit lead for the remainder of the half, heading into the break up 10, 44-34.
Wyatt scored the first 11 points of the second half for the Panthers in a tough shooting stretch that saw the Purple and White only make two shots from the floor in the first five minutes of the half. Gardner-Webb used that slump to its advantage, clawing back to make it a three-point game at 50-47 with four-and-a-half left in the third. Wyatt was still in the middle of her streak and scored five for the Panthers to make it a two-possession game again. HPU was able to outscore Gardner-Webb the rest of the quarter, ending it on a 7-2 run to lead by nine, 62-53, heading into the fourth.
It was all High Point for most of the frame, with the Runnin’ Bulldogs not making a field goal for almost the first eight minutes of the quarter, making it a more than 10-minute stretch between makes from the floor for the visitors. Gardner-Webb only had one free throw during that stretch in the fourth, allowing High Point to take its largest lead of the day at 19 points, 73-54. All those points came in the first half of the quarter as the Purple and White only made one more shot the rest of the way but it didn’t matter as the defense held firm to come away with the 75-58 win.
High Point and Campbell will meet on Sunday (March 14) in the Millis Center at 2 p.m. with the 2021 Hercules Tires Big South Women’s Basketball Championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line, of which both would be the first for the Panthers.